The strange parallel universe inhabited by Leave EU main man Arron Banks, and indeed his side-kick Andy Wigmore, has thrown up another conundrum today, this time over legal representation. Banksy and Wiggy have been talking tough after MEP Guy Verhofstadt called them out for their links with Russia. But talking the talk does not seem to have been followed by walking the walk. There was farting, but no chewing of gum.
Verhofstadt’s Tweeted J’Accuse “Europe has a fifth column in its ranks: Putin's cheerleaders who want to destroy Europe & liberal democracy from within: Le Pen, Wilders, Farage, Orbàn, Kaczynski, Salvini use Kremlin money & intel. Like Farage's friend Arron Banks, who colluded w/ Russians to deliver #Brexit” provoked Banksy to action.
First, his Westmonster feed proclaimed “@Arron_banks slams mad Verhofstadt tweet: ‘We are not funded by the Russians. If he does not retract the statement, we will go ahead and sue him for defamation. So he can save himself a whole load of time and money and just retract it.’” Then came the legal letter - or did it?
This, from Mishcon de Reya, looked the part until it became clear that it did not follow the pre-action protocol for defamation. Then, as Politico has told, “Euroskeptic campaign group Leave.EU has accused Guy Verhofstadt of ‘rancid fake news’ and called for him to be ‘locked up,’ after the MEP claimed the group’s founder, Arron Banks, had ‘colluded’ with Russia on Brexit”. Why do that if you’re taking legal action?
It got worse: Liz Bilney, CEO of Leave EU, Tweeted “The attacks from the establishment on Brexiteers are constant & unrelenting. It seems when the Establishment loses, the rules are just changed. Help us fight this Hunger Games style state of dictatorship by supporting https://leave.eu/get-involved/ Help us fight back”. If Banksy is such a millionaire philanthropist, why do they need to beg for donations?
Then came the real kicker. Lawyers representing Byline Media, which has threatened Banksy and Wiggy with legal action after they made accusations of email hacking against it, received a most unusual reply from Mishcon de Reya to their letter before action. “We confirm receipt of your letters … Please note however that we are not instructed in relation to either complaint” was the crucial line. Banksy, where’s yer lawyer?
That would explain why Banks’ accusing Peter Jukes of making “Another libellous statement” has not been followed up by a Nastygram of any kind. Byline Media could only conclude “it appears, at least in this matter, @Mischon_de_Reya do no represent @Arron_banks and @andywigmore on this defamation claim”.
And Carole Cadwalladr of the Observer asked the question many now want answering: “@Arron_banks & @andywigmore seem to have mislaid their lawyer. What happened chaps? Did you sack champion of journalists & defender of free speech @AnthonyJulius6? Or did he sack you?”. The Verhofstadt Tweet is still there, too.
Those less charitably disposed might conclude that Banksy and Wiggy are all wind and piss, and have been rumbled. I’m sure there’s a perfectly reasonable explanation.